Exclusive: Mark Knopfler Reveals the Stories Behind His New Album, 'Tracker'

Mark Knopfler
Tom Bird

Mark Knopfler

Even as he's bringing out a new album -- Tracker, his eighth solo album, not counting film scores -- Mark Knopfler says he's dialing confidently into what will come next.

"I'm not as distracted as I once was," the co-founder and leader of the dormant Dire Straits tells Billboard. "If you're thinking the road ahead is a little shorter than the one behind you, you're thinking about trying to write a good song and hoping to make a decent record of it. These songs keep showing up. I just keep taking a look at them and wondering if they're ever going to see the light of day, and I'm just going to try my best to make some of them do that."

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Asked how large of a backlog he's sitting on, Knopfler counts up a list of "about 55" but says that "they won't all be songs, I promise you. I would think that a really good bunch of those will fall by the wayside. I can't think there'll be more than two or three decent songs in all of that. It's really hard to know, but I'd say most of them aren't going to make it across no man's land. But, boy, it's fun to try."

Knopfler says Tracker -- which comes out March 17 in a standard, deluxe and box set editions -- and a deluxe edition with six bonus tracks on a second disc -- reflects his knack for writing on the road and turning his experiences there into music. "Over the years I've learned to write on the go," says Knopfler, who carries gear and has been known to troll his hotels looking for a proper chair in which he can sit and play guitar if there's not one already in his room. "There's a couple of songs on there -- like 'Lights of Taomina,' where I was actually sitting on this beautiful terrace, looking down at Taomina -- where I know that, in fact, I started writing them because I was on tour," Knopfler explains. "But they come for all kinds of reasons -- because of the place you're physically, geographically in at the time or from a remark someone makes or something you happen to read. It's always by...accident."

Watch Knopfler talk about the stories behind the music on Tracker below:


Tracker also takes a nostalgic turn on the opening "Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes," which documents Knopfler's pre-Dire Straits career, while songs such as "Beryl" and "Basil" are about British writer Dame Beryl Bainbridge and poet Basil Bunting, respectively. The set was engineered by longtime Knopfler cohort Guy Fletcher and features the musicians who have been part of his band in recent years, as well as featured vocalist Ruth Moody

Knopfler hits the road to promote Tracker starting May 15 in Dublin, and will spend the summer in Europe including a number of festival appearances, while the North American leg begins September 10 in Vancouver and wraps up Halloween night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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"It's not the hardest thing in the world to do when you love what you're doing," Knopfler says of the upcoming tour. "Everybody knows that I'm there because I love doing it; to me it's the last arc in the circle, to go and play live, and it's not as hard as all that. I like to play some old things that remain real for me, so if you're playing 'Brothers in Arms' you better play it well. You can't just recite it. As one of my musical pals observed, this getting older shit ain't for wimps. But the motor to try and keep going remains. That's still strong with me."

Tracker is available for preorder on Amazon.